The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)

I am such a big fan of The Royal Tenenbaums (by the same writer/director, Wes Anderson), that it is difficult not to compare the two films. I was very disappointed the first time I watched Life Aquatic because many of the same themes were recycled, the characters weren't as sympathetic, and it wasn't as funny as The Royal Tenenbaums.

But then I watched it again the following summer and then a couple nights ago and I found that I really enjoyed it. Expectations do play an important role in watching movies.

Steve Zissou, portrayed enigmatically by the sharp Bill Murray, is a washed up Cousteau-esque documentarian. He's penniless, boring, bored, depressed, alone, and full or himself (sorry, can't help the comparison: just like Royal Tenenbaum). The film documents his multifaceted salvation which involves pirates, death, embracing fatherhood, being honest, rescue, forgiveness and acceptance.

For many, these steps toward salvation might go unseen as the film is a constant barrage of slick one-liners and Crayola cartoon fish.

Anderson chose to write with Noah Baumbach (The Squid and the Whale) rather than his usual partner Owen Wilson. After seeing the film three times, I could appreciate more of the intricacies that these writers wove into the film. The different struggles that the members of the Belfonte's crew have are richly portrayed and the film is essentially a trial by fire where those who embrace the process come out stronger on the other side.

Anderson has been able to draw some incredible talent to his projects. This one also has an impressive roster. The best acting comes from Cate Blanchette as the pregnant reporter, Willem Dafoe as the needy German assistant to Zissou, and of course Murray whose deadpan humour and sadness shines brilliantly.

Finally, the music in the film is original and beautiful. Seu Jorge sings David Bowie songs on his guitar in Portuguese throughout the film and Mark Mothersbaugh adds quirky electronic music with bombastic horns to round out the film. I got the soundtrack.


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